Crowd-sourcing for snow depth data

By Waiology 28/07/2011

By Ross Woods

On Monday morning I posted an album of photos of the snow near my house on my Facebook page, including shots like this one:


My son, who likes to tease me about spending too much time working, then asked me ‘what are your predictions for gutter flow rates due to snow melt in the coming days …’

This got me thinking about how to find out quickly how much snow there was around Christchurch, and then I had the idea of using networks on Facebook and at NIWA to get some crowd-sourced data on snow depth. At noon on Monday I created an open Facebook group called ‘How Deep is the Snow at Your Place? (July 2011, NZ)’, and offered some guidance on how many measurements to take (ten) and how to choose a good spot (away from fences, buildings, valleys). I circulated the same message at NIWA in Christchurch. Most of my replies came in within the first 3 hours.

I got 44 responses from Facebook and NIWA, from as far north as Wellington (‘no snow’) and as far south as Dunedin. I also got a nice report from an experienced hydrologist who had driven from Picton back to Christchurch, and taken note of how deep the snow was at quite a few locations. The most common snow depths were in the range 10-15 cm, and the statistical distribution of snow depths looks like this:


Where was the deepest snow? I couldn’t see any particular pattern in the snow depth data: there’s a map of the data points on the Google Maps page I quickly put together. The page is still under development — the colour of the placemarkers has been giving me trouble but I’ve nearly got it.

In the meantime, the Terra satellite was capturing some nice imagery on where the snow was, and NIWA staff were out doing a scientific survey of snow depth and density — more of that to come later…


0 Responses to “Crowd-sourcing for snow depth data”

  • > Dear Colleagues:
    You may be interested in this message I got in 2009 from a colleague in Canada. I sent it to Jordy at the time.
    > We have been experimenting with using publicly available web media to
    > engage community participation in measuring snow! And now we need your
    > help, if you are interested.
    > The Snowtweets project is all about encouraging specialists and non-
    > specialists to make simple measurements of snow depth that can we can
    > access through widely available web media. Snowtweets relies on users
    > tweeting their snow depth from their local site through the Twitter
    > website. We then pick up the tweets in our own data base and pass
    > them through to a visualization package called Snowbird. Snowbird
    > renders the snow depth on a representation of the globe (e.g. Blue
    > Marble). We are seeking to use this information to help with our
    > remote sensing and model estimates (and to provide a modicum of a
    > public service).
    > To participate, you will need to have a Twitter account (free) and
    > start tweeting. To see the data you can download and fire up the
    > Snowbird application. All you need to know about how to do it, and how
    > to get Snowbird, can be found on our website:
    > In the northern hemisphere, snow extent is coming to it’s minimum so
    > in general, we do not expect significant numbers of NH tweets, except
    > from the far north.
    > In the S. hemisphere, however, we might be able to get the attention
    > of people experiencing current snow conditions. Please feel free to
    > join in and tweet.
    > At this time we would like to test out the system so the more the
    > merrier!
    > Our goal is to reach out to long-term participants (universities,
    > schools, research centres, community/professional groups) who have an
    > interest in contributing for professional/academic/educational
    > reasons. The emphasis is on ease of use (Twitter can be accessed
    > through the web including via mobile data devices) to get more people
    > involved.
    > If you have any comments or questions drop me a line!
    > Best regards
    > Richard

    Dr. Richard Kelly
    Associate Professor
    Department of Geography & Environmental Management
    University of Waterloo
    200 University Avenue West
    Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 3G1
    Vox. (+1) 519-888-4567 etxn: 35451


  • Thanks Tim – I’ll take a look at the site. I guess one of the advantages the Canadians have over us is that snow in well-populated areas is a more regular occurrence there, so it’s easier to build up a following in the general public. It seems like there’s significant snow in heavily-populated parts of NZ maybe once every couple of years.
    Perhaps if we went broader than snow data, and had a system for people to tweet in reports of severe weather, people could get involved regularly: as well as #snowtweets, we could have #thundertweets, #hailtweets, …